Watchable Books

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” So runs Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law of Prediction. Conversely, magic can inspire gee-whiz technology.

When J.K. Rowling created the richly imaginative Harry Potter universe, she populated it with goods and services that may have sowed the seeds of technological ideas for a future Muggle world.

Take The Daily Prophet, the leading daily of the British wizard community. Its photographs are striking. Their subjects, though captured within frames, are oddly free to move about within them. The editorial text, by contrast, is static. The newspaper is remarkable in that it combines two distinct types of media: print and video.

The Entertainment Weekly came close to combining mixed-media content. Well, sort of. In the New York and Los Angles editions of the September 18, 2009 issue, CBS ran a video-in-print campaign to promote a lineup of its upcoming shows. A flexible, ultra-thin, 2 inch by 1.5 inch screen was embedded into a two-page advertisement that started playing when the page was opened.

We haven’t seen any more of those since. The “Minority Report” (2002), set in the year 2054, featured a superbly futuristic version of USA TODAY, with streaming headlines that self-updated according to the news of the hour.

The present day American media and publishing landscape has been able to integrate media on a scale that’s far less grand. A surface made of trees has no room for silicon chips in it. A book that’s stored in the form of bytes cannot, on the other hand, be marked using a lead pencil.

The future isn’t here, yet. The closest we’ve come to products that remotely resemble The Daily Prophet or the cinematic edition of USA TODAY are “vooks”—hybrid e-books that can be watched as they’re read.

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